Incomprehensible short mystery story

I read this story “The Caterpillar Flag” last night in an anthology called “Ox Crimes, 27 killer stories from the cream of crime writers.” The story is by Christopher Fowler, whose Bryant and May novels I am enjoying reading through. This is a middle- to low-brow collection with moderately interesting stories.

But I have no clue not only about what this story is about, but even about what exactly happens. It starts out with an English family, parents and young daughter, who move from England to a hot town in Spain for the girl’s health (she has pleurisy). There is also a worldly older lady English ex-pat, and in the story it is coming on towards the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The girl tries to extract silk from “silkworms” (clearly they are something else, presumably the eponymous caterpillars) to weave a British flag to send to the Queen but she gets no silk. This is where the story leaves me behind. Some old ladies, including the older ex-pat, some local ladies, maybe some other ex-pats, get together and come up with some plan. They apparently weave some kind of flag and send it to the Queen in the girl’s name. The girl gets an appreciation letter from the Queen. The older ex-pat lady disappears or dies, and maybe is cremated. The end.

So where’s the crime? Has anyone else read this story ever and can explain it to me? Did the other old ladies somehow make the flag out of the older ex-pat lady? There is clearly some fact about the “silkworms” that I am supposed to know about, but I don’t.

Have you ever read mystery stories that just leave you scratching your head?

“The case began when Mrs. Judy Malloy walked into my detective agency, saying someone had kidnapped her baby. I took a stiff drink of whiskey, pretending it was water and asked her for the details. She said her baby have been taken from the Happy-Time Nursery School on Forrest avenue while she was getting a perm at Lombardi’s hairdressers on 5th street. I knew right away the whole thing was a sham. I knew because… I was her baby!”

Were the other stories in the anthology pretty good?

I don’t think it’s meant to be a story about a crime, although it mentions a few pedestrian ones and maybe hints at a couple more. It’s a story by a crime writer. Christopher Fowler posted the story online, if anyone wants to check it out.

From the introduction online:

I like incomprehensible stories, so I had to look this up. And I got even more confused when I read this version of The Caterpillar Flag posted by the author. It has several differences, including the absence of the character who is evidently dead at the end. I guess it’s a first draft?

I managed to find enough of the version from Ox Crimes in Google Books preview to get the gist of it, and I’m with you. There’s no apparent connection between the old ladies making the flag and the ex-pat disappearing/dying. it’s not some clever mystery, it’s like parts of another book were thrown in.

And given the draft I found, maybe that’s the explanation? The version linked above is a sweet story about a naive girl who is befriended by some old women. The old women help her out, and there’s beauty and love in the world, blah blah blah. Then the author had the opportunity to have it included in a crime anthology, so he threw in some other stuff that seemed mysterious. Reading it as a cute story with an attempt at crime pasted in later makes more sense to me.

You’re not alone/3).

So I read a bit more about the anthology. They asked famous authors for a story, and the purpose of the anthology is to make money for Oxfam (hence the name). So it’s not a normal anthology where editors search out good stores to reprint, they apparently just took whatever was given.

And if Fowler thought this story “worked rather well” then he’s incapable of self-editing and someone should have told him the hard truth. It doesn’t.

I try not to read such stuff as I get disappointed and sad…

So the online version isn’t the version in the book? Sigh. I may have to buy the thing, now.

There is an off-hand spookiness to the mother knowing that the village women could “make silk” if you think of them making silk and not, say, using silk fabric scraps to make a flag.

It’s a village of Driders!